Middle-Out Approaches to Reform of University Teaching and Learning: Champions striding between the top-down and bottom-up approaches


  • Rick Cummings
  • Rob Phillips
  • Rhondda Tilbrook
  • Kate Lowe




In recent years, Australian universities have been driven by a diversity of external forces, including funding cuts, massification of higher education, and changing student demographics, to reform their relationship with students and improve teaching and learning, particularly for those studying off-campus or part-time. Many universities have responded to these forces either through formal strategic plans developed top-down by executive staff or through organic developments arising from staff in a bottom-up approach. By contrast, much of Murdoch University's response has been led by a small number of staff who have middle management responsibilities and who have championed the reform of key university functions, largely in spite of current policy or accepted practice. This paper argues that the "middle-out" strategy has both a basis in change management theory and practice, and a number of strengths, including low risk, low cost, and high sustainability. Three linked examples of middle-out change management in teaching and learning at Murdoch University are described and the outcomes analyzed to demonstrate the benefits and pitfalls of this approach.

Author Biographies

Rick Cummings

Dr. Rick Cummings holds an academic position in the Teaching and Learning Centre at Murdoch University working in the areas of institutional research and evaluation of teaching and learning. He also undertakes consultancy work in the field of program evaluation and is currently President of the Australasian Evaluation Society and immediate past editor of the Evaluation Journal of Australasia. For more information, contact Dr Cummings at: R.Cummings@murdoch.edu.au

Rob Phillips

Dr. Rob Phillips works as an educational designer in the Teaching and Learning Centre at Murdoch University, promoting and supporting the use of educational technology. His research interests include evaluating how students learn at university, university policy issues relating to adoption of new technologies, innovative applications of technology, and project management. He was President of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE) 1996-2000 and is currently an executive member of the Australasian Council on Open, Distance and E-learning. Dr. Phillips' email is: R.Phillips@murdoch.edu.au

Rhondda Tilbrook

Rhondda Tilbrook hold the position of educational development officer in the Teaching and Learning Centre at Murdoch University. Her main role is to provide training and support for staff in flexible teaching and learning and especially in their use of WebCT. Rhondda Tilbrook's email address is: R.Tilbrook@murdoch.edu.au

Kate Lowe

Kate Lowe is an educational designer in the Teaching Learning Centre of Murdoch University. She has a key role in the ongoing development of sound teaching and learning practice and the development of high quality learning materials in all academic areas. She provides support for flexible learning initiatives and works with Unit Coordinators in the development of aligned curriculum. For more information, email Kate Lowe at: K.Lowe@murdoch.edu.au




How to Cite

Cummings, R., Phillips, R., Tilbrook, R., & Lowe, K. (2005). Middle-Out Approaches to Reform of University Teaching and Learning: Champions striding between the top-down and bottom-up approaches. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v6i1.224